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Wiltshire Community History

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Melksham Without

This page is one of 261 pages covering every community in Wiltshire, and is provided by Wiltshire Council Libraries and Heritage. A project to provide a fuller picture of each community is in progress, working on the larger communities first. When these 261, which are modern civil parishes, are completed we will begin work on a further 180 villages and hamlets to provide comprehensive coverage of Wiltshire communities large and small.

Map of the Civil Parish of Melksham Without:

Map of the Civil Parish of Melksham Without

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish boundary has been superimposed.

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1810:

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1810

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

This is a corrected and updated edition of the 1773 map that includes the recently built canals.

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1773:

From Andrews' and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1773

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham

Thumbnail History:

The parish of Melksham Without was created under the Local Government Act of 1894 which divited the ancient parish of Melksham into Melksham Within (the town or urban district council area) and the rural Melksham Without. Parts of Melksham Without, adjacent to the town, were subsequently transferred to Melksham Within in 1895, 1914 and 1934.

Melksham Without surrounds the town of Melksham on three sides - the northern, eastern and southern - and contains three villages in the north - Beanacre, Shaw and Whitley - that were ancient centres of population. In the east was the area occupied by royal forest until the 17th century and this is populated by scattered farms. In the south are two areas that were devoted to farming but were given over to military purposes in the 20th century. Royal Air Force Melksham was based at Bowerhill from 1940 and this area has now been developed into industrial and housing estates. Houses for married quarters were built at Berryfield, which has led to a separate housing estate separated from the urban area.

The whole of the parish lies within the broad valley of the River Avon with the highest land being in the north at Shaw Hill (165 feet) and to the north of Whitley (195 feet). The south-west corner contains marshy land that was liable to flooding and which contains little settlement. The whole parish is mainly on Oxford clay which supported the traditional small mixed and livestock farms of western Wiltshire with dairying and pigs predominant. The River Avon flows through the northern part of the parish, to the east of Beanacre, and a stream from Sandridge joins the river there. Another stream, the South Brook, flows from Shaw Hill into the Avon to the west of Melksham. The Semington Brook forms part of the southern boundary of the parish.

Shaw lies on the Bath road from which a minor road leading to Corsham passes through Whitley. Berryfield, in the south, and Beanacre, in the north, are on the A350 road from Westbury to Chippenham, while the road from Melksham to Devizes passes through the south-east of the parish past Bowerhill, Woolmore and Redstocks. The road from Melksham to Calne passes through Blackmore and Sandridge, while a minor road from this leads through Woodrow to Lacock. The Kennet and Avon Canal (opened 1810) passes through the southern tip of the parish. From here the Wilts and Berks Canal (now filled for this part of its course) was cut through the Forest and Woodrow areas. This allowed the export of agricultural produce from the early 19th century and the importation of building materials.

The eastern part of the parish, bounded by the Avon to the west and the Semington Brook to the south, were part of the royal forest of Melksham whose bounds were first set in 1228. The borders of the forest changed over the centuries. For example, Rotteridge Wood was in the Forest in 1228 but just outside it in 1300. The forest supplied large numbers of fallow deer to provide the court with venison, and timber and firewood were also supplied. Between Bowerhill and Seend there was an enclosed 'cowfold' for the King's cattle but other owners had to pay for pasturing their animals in the forest, although the poor did have common rights. From 1618 the area was disafforested and the land leased, often to people who were already occupying it illegally.

Of the areas within the forest Woodrow is first mentioned in 1252 as being owned by Elias de Rabayn, later the keeper of Devizes Castle and Chippenham and Melksham Forests. It later became a manor owned by the Crown and a succession of other owners and is last mentioned in 1683. The manor of Woolmore possibly originates in a holding of Amesbury Abbey in 1286 although it is not mentioned as a manor until 1502. It passed to Henry Brounckner after the dissolution in 1541 and later passed to the Hulberts and the Awdreys. Woolmore House at Bowerhill on the Melksham to Devizes Road was built by George Hulbert in 1631. It is believed to have been built to a plan of Inigo Jones. By the 20th century it had become a farmhouse and in 2003 is an organic dairy farm. The present Sandridge Park had been built by Henry Lopes by 1862, replacing a house of Lord Audley, but there seem to have been no major early holdings of land in this area.

Settlement in this former forest area comprises farms that were created after or, in a few cases, before the area was disafforested in the early 17th century. Rhotteridge Farm seems to have been in existence in the early 13th century and for much of the time lay just outside the forest. Other farmhouses are Queenfield (late 17th century), Tanhouse (early 17th century), Blackmore (late 18th century farmhouse), Woodrow (early 18th century farmhouse) and Forest (early 18th century farmhouse). This is a typical settlement pattern of farms with nearby labourers' cottages in an area that had been a royal forest. Even in the 20th century there was only limited house-building at Woodrow and Sandridge.

Beanacre is probably the oldest centre of population in the parish and its name comes from 'bean field'. The manor of Beanacre is first mentioned in 1296 although there is a possible earlier record of 1275. It was owned by Amesbury Abbey and was held by various families including Bluet, Baynard and Daniell. The manor house (Beanacre Old Manor) has a late 14th century open hall and solar, which was remodelled in the early 16th century, while the chapel to the rear is of c.1500. The village seems to have developed around the manor house with farmhouses and cottages although, apart from buildings at the Old Manor, there is nothing earlier than the 17th century. There are gaps between existing buildings that could indicate sites of former houses or it may be a sign that there was more land fronting the road than was required by the small number of inhabitants. Certainly the settlement has grown northwards from its original site around the Old Manor, the part of the village now bypassed, although it is possible that there was early settlement around the junction of the Whitley road, later known as Upper Green. There is still a gap between the two settlements and it would seem that the northern part was mainly small cottages.

The housing in the northern part of the village was mostly built within the last 200 years and consists mainly of 19th century cottages and 20th century detached houses. The railway line to Chippenham runs from south to north parallel with the village to the west while the River Avon flows in a similar direction to the east. Today the village is mainly residential, surrounded by farmland but Beechfield House, built for local gentleman farmer Richard Keevil in 1870, is now a hotel and restaurant.

The manor of Shaw was first mentioned in the 13th century, when it formed part of the barony of Castle Combe. It would seem likely that the original manor house was on, or near, the site of the present Shaw House, no the Shaw Counrty Hotel (2003) . It would also seem likely that early settlement was to the north and south of the manor house, probably along the Melksham Road. It would seem possible that there was settlement on Shaw Hill at a fairly early date, although 'Shawhill' is not mentioned by name until 1669. By 1773 there was a line of dwellings along the Melksham road but a far larger settlement on Shaw Hill.

The meaning of Shaw being a wood or copse would seem to indicate the condition of the area when it was first settled and may account for there being no nucleated settlement here. Certainly medieval Shaw was a small community centred on its manor house and the chapel here seems to have had more to do with the barony of Castle Combe than local needs. The settlement remained small and rural but by the 17th century there were a reasonable number of houses. In the mid-17th century it became a stronghold of the Society of Friends with Quakers travelling from around the area to meetings here. Being about 2 miles from the town of Melksham it was unlikely that too much notice of such meetings would be taken during the time of non-conformist persecution prior to the 1688 Act of Toleration.

For much of the 17th century Shaw House and Farm were owned by the Ashe family of Freshford but in 1701 it was sold to Thomas Smith, who rebuilt the mansion. For the next 50 years Shaw House seems to have been a centre for social life in this part of Wiltshire and this is reflected in a diary which Smith kept from 1715, covering most of the time until his death in 1723. Information on this diary can be found in 'The Diary of Thomas Smith of Shaw 1715-23' by Edward Bradby. WAM, Vol. 82, pp 115-141, 1988. After 1759 the property belonged to the Neale family and in the early 19th century the house was let as a private school.

The population grew during the 19th century and a church and school were provided. Most people were either employed in agriculture or worked in the growing town of Melksham. In Shaw in the 1870s there was a post office, a grocer, a brewer and two coal merchants and the postmaster also made shoes. For everything else the inhabitants had to go to Melksham or to the baker at Whitley. In the latter part of the 20th century there was more building on and around Shaw Hill.

Whitley was probably settled around the same time as Shaw and the origin of its name is from the same source. It means a white clearing or wood. There would appear to be three settlements - Upper, Middle and Lower - linked together by the route from Atworth to Lacock. Although Whitley is mentioned as a manor in 1546 it is unlikely to have been one and was probably an estate. Whitley House dates from the 17th century and it could have replaced an earlier building. There does seem to have been a general rebuilding from the late 17th century with the large stone Whitley Farmhouse, Slade's Farmhouse and attached dairy and the Pear Tree Inn. Other farmhouses such as Westlands and Northey's were built in the early 18th century.

From this it would seem that there were a number of tenants in Whitley who built themselves substantial farmhouses. Building of cottages continued through the 18th and 19th centuries but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that there was substantial infill of this scattered community. Today Upper and Middle Whitley are joined but there are still few houses in Lower Whitley around Westlands Farm. There was a pleasant economy of effort in naming roads here meaning that the present main residential area comprises First Lane, Middle Lane and Top Lane.

There is a small settlement on Sandridge Hill that overlooks Sandridge Park. This house was built by Henry Lopes before 1862, replacing Sandridge Hill House which was then owned by Lord Audley.

Bowerhill was a rural area until early in 1940 when building work began on a new RAF station. In July the RAF School of Instrument Training moved here from Cranwell and later a branch of the RAF Armament School also moved here. In the following years other courses were run and in 1942 the Armament School moved out and was replaced by the RAF Electrical School from Hereford. Much specialised training was undertaken at RAF Melksham with not only RAF personnel but Polish, Free French and American members of the Allied Air Forces.

Towards the end of the Second World War a large number of Royal Naval Air Service Mechanics were trained here and many transport drivers also received instruction. From the end of the war Melksham resumed its role in Electrical and Instrument courses and continued with this and other education programmes until the early 1970s. The station was then decommissioned and used for a mixture of industrial, commercial and residential use, with much development in the 1980s.

Around 1770 a spring was discovered on the Devizes road out of Melksham and in 1813 the water was found to have properties thought to cure various ills. In 1815 the Melksham Spa Company was formed and buildings, including a pump room, were erected. The crescent of six houses on the north side of the road show the original attempt to rival nearby Bath. People came to take the waters for a while but the proximity of the fashionable Bath meant that the efforts at Melksham were doomed to failure.

CouncilWiltshire Council
Web Sitewww.wiltshire.gov.uk
Parish CouncilMelksham Without Parish Council
Parish Web Sitewww.melkshamwithout.co.uk
Parish Emailmary.jarvis@melkshamwithout.co.uk

Churches: Information on both current and disused churches and chapels.

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Archaeological Sites: A Sites and Monuments Record (opens new window) is maintained by the County Archaeology Service and covers some 20,000 sites. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society was formed in 1853 and have been publishing an annual journal since 1854. The journal contains both substantial articles and shorter notes on archaeological excavations, finds, museum objects, local history, genealogy and natural history.

Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Melksham Without

Folk Biographies from Melksham Without

Folk Plays from Melksham Without

History of Buildings: The collections of the Wiltshire Buildings Record are housed in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

Listed Buildings: The number of buildings, or groups of buildings, listed as being of architectural or historical importance is 66. There is one Grade I building, Beanacre Old Manor, and three Grade II* buildings, Beanacre Manor, Woolmore Farmhouse and Christ Church at Shaw.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

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